Whole Grains for Health, Alcohol for Preventing Heart Disease? No.

This week’s Pullitzer Prize-winning correspondence comes from someone who thinks his combined assault on logic and the English language will win me over to his/her untenable beliefs on whole grains and alcohol. I duly present his/her email in its entire and unedited state, along with my reply. 

"kalbertini" writes:

Whole Grains & your foolish avoidance of Alcohol^s role in lowering heart disease

Comments: Whole Grains not healthy ? Ukrainians are known to eat whole  grains as a staple & live a lot into 90s.

Whole grains prevent a lot of absorption of zinc,iron ? That^s nature^s way of making sure you don^t get too much of a good thing. Too much Zinc for a long period can actually

Decrease your immunes system & white blood cell count.I know this from experience.Enough zinc gets absorbed in whole grains.too much iron is bad too

Saturated fat ? yes it has been demonized too much but tell a person who survived a heart attack or has narrowing arteries to eat a lot of fatty meats see what happens.

The French—saturated fat ?  Answer Alcohol

Alcohol(in moderation) raises HDL,is anti inflammatory,lowers c reactive protein,thins blood.Too many studies & too much x perience(Italia) show this

Anthony replies:

Oh dear.

“Comments: Whole Grains not healthy ? Ukrainians are known to eat whole  grains as a staple & live a lot into 90s.”

OK, I see how this works – randomly cite some allegedly long-lived population, pick an isolated aspect of their diet or lifestyle, then claim that is what made them live so long.

Awrighty, just give me a minute to conduct my own version of this charade.

OK, here we are … the longest unambiguously documented human lifespan is that of Jeanne Calment of France (1875–1997), who died at age 122 years, 164 days. She smoked until the age of 117 … so obviously smoking is good for you!

You think the Jeanne Calmet smoking analogy sounds ridiculous? Well, no more than your Ukraine example, which becomes even more absurd when one considers the Ukraine is not exactly renown for longevity.

Current life expectancy in the Ukraine is 69.29 years. Like most Eastern European countries, this compares poorly with the life expectancy of countries like Australia, Canada, Japan, Italy, France, New Zealand, Spain … all of which have life expectancies of 80+ years and all of whom eat predominantly refined grains.

So if you want to live to be 80+, eat lots of refined grains!

Yes, that’s a ridiculous claim too, but hey, I’m on a roll here – I’m finally getting to role play and see how the other half lives!

In reality, the low life expectancy of the Eastern bloc has much more to do with poor overall diet, socioeconomic upheaval, and alcohol abuse.

And for the record, I’ve known numerous Italians who lived into their 90s, and none of them ate whole grains. They did, however, eat white pasta, white bread and white rice on a regular basis.

"Whole grains prevent a lot of absorption of zinc,iron ? That^s nature^s way of making sure you don^t get too much of a good thing. Too much Zinc for a long period can actually"

B^o^L^L,oc^k^s  !

Oh wait, you hadn’t finished your sentence. How rude of me to interject – please, carry on…

"Decrease your immunes system & white blood cell count.I know this from experience."

Okay, you’re done with that sentence, right? Cool. If Mother Nature intended for us to eat foods that inhibit our absorption of zinc and iron – along with other crucial minerals like magnesium, selenium, and calcium - why did she endow our evolutionary environment with foods that were rich in zinc and iron? Why did humans evolve as omnivorous hunter-gatherers who regularly ate the flesh of wild game (which gram for gram is much higher in iron than domesticated meat)?

Why did humans only start eating grains in any meaningful quantity some 10,000 years ago?

I truly doubt you could even begin to piece together a coherent answer to that question, so let me tell you. A combination of burgeoning population growth and diminishing wild game availability literally forced humans to turn to grains for sustenance. They knew these were inferior foods, but had little choice but to opt for quantity over quality.

Nature knew we needed zinc, and that fresh meats were a far better source of this crucial mineral than whole grains. That’s why she endowed prehistoric humans with the wherewithal to walk right past grain fields and keep their eyes on the wildebeest they were stalking instead. Nowadays, we humans have become so 'enlightened' we ignore Mother Nature and instead listen to dopey dieticians (settle down, Janet) who tell us to eat foods we were never meant to eat.

Yep, the propaganda emanating from Big Food and Big Pharma, and the health authorities they effectively own, has supplanted the intuition and wisdom humans developed over millions of years. And people fall for this bollocks hook, line and sinker.

Devo and NOFX were right; the more advanced technology becomes, the lazier, dumber and more gullible humans become.

As for your “x perience”; if you read some oddball health book that told you to eat tons of oysters and load up on zinc pills in a fruitless attempt to increase your Don Juan factor, then please don’t assume everyone else is in a similarly absurd situation of zinc overload. Zinc deficiency is actually quite common and a far more pressing concern than zinc excess:


“Enough zinc gets absorbed in whole grains”

I note you provide absolutely no scientific evidence in support of this astonishing statement, no doubt because you have none.

In contrast, I’ve already presented evidence here from controlled clinical trials showing that whole grains routinely worsen mineral status. In one of the trials, when healthy volunteers on a balanced eucaloric diet were switched from refined to whole grain bread, zinc balance promptly went from positive to negative in the volunteers[6]. You might think zinc deficiency is super awesome, but the reality is it’s a highly undesirable state that should be avoided at all costs.

Grains (whole and refined) are a poor source of zinc compared to meat. Populations that rely on whole grains as their sole or primary source of sustenance are riddled with zinc deficiency, even when they consume enough grain to meet the RDA for this mineral.

In the 60s and 70s, numerous cases of hypogonadal dwarfism were noted in Iran and Egypt, where the populations derived a significant portion of their calories from whole grain breads such as tanok and bazari[1-3].

Hypogonadal dwarfism, by the way, is an underactivity of the sex glands due to low testosterone which can lead to stunted growth and underdeveloped sexual organs.

Not a very desirable state.

The primary cause of this hypogonadism?

Zinc deficiency.

This occurred despite the fact that zinc intake of these populations exceeded the RDA by a significant margin. Clinical research subsequently showed the high consumption of phytate-rich whole grains was responsible for inducing the negative zinc balances [4-6].

So tell me again how you can get all the zinc you need from whole-grains?

Zinc deficiency is also more common in vegetarians than omnivores[7,8]. Not surprising, given that the bioavailability of zinc from meat is four times greater than that from cereals [9].

“too much iron is bad too”

No kidding. I’ve only written about this in, like, all my books and about a squillion times on this website. Perhaps in future you could actually read my stuff before going off half-cocked and sending me a barely legible email accusing me of being foolish?

Iron excess is indeed a cause of much morbidity and mortality in adult males and postmenopausal females, neither of whom have the ability to naturally drain out iron on a monthly basis. In premenopausal women who do have this ability, heart disease and overall mortality rates are lower, but the risk of iron deficiency and anemia are much higher. Ironically, premenopausal women are the most likely to fall for vegetarian/vegan propaganda and ditch the food they need most: Red meat.

Interestingly, despite their lower serum ferritin levels, and higher rates of exercise and smoking avoidance, vegetarians and vegans enjoy no mortality advantage over omnivores, indicating that something in their diet is actually negating the beneficial effect of their low iron levels. Perhaps something like the lack of vital nutrients found in animal flesh and an excess of anti-nutrients found in whole grains?

Phlebotomy or high volume exercise are far better strategies for keeping a lid on bodily iron stores in non-menstruating adults.

"Saturated fat ? yes it has been demonized too much but tell a person who survived a heart attack or has narrowing arteries to eat a lot of fatty meats see what happens."

Who’s telling anyone, let alone heart attack patients, to “to eat a lot of fatty meats”? Okay, maybe Atkins and the similarly hyperbolic low-carb gurus that followed in his footsteps made such recommendations, but what on earth do those jokers have to do with me?

Understand this: I wouldn’t tell anyone, regardless of their cardiovascular health, “to eat a lot of fatty meats”, no sooner than I recommend they eat lots of pickled eggs or blueberry tarts. As a person who recommends balanced omnivorous diets and longs for a return of plain commonsense to the dietary arena, I wouldn’t tell anyone to eat inordinate amounts of any type of food. So what exactly is the point of your comment, besides further impressing upon me you are a few pieces short of a full chess set?

As for saturated fats, clinical trial after clinical trial has failed to find any benefit from saturated fat restriction. Prospective study after prospective study has also failed to find any connection between saturated fats and heart disease.

This isn’t my opinion - it’s a fact. A report recently published under the auspices of no less than the World Health and Food and Agriculture Organizations (WHO and FAO) also reviewed the data from follow-up population studies and clinical trials[10]. The follow-up studies showed: "Intake of total fat was not significantly associated with CHD mortality,” and: “Intake of SFA [saturated fatty acids] was not significantly associated with CHD mortality”.

The results from randomized controlled clinical trials showed: "...fatal CHD was not reduced by either the low-fat diets... or the high P/S diets [diets high in polyunsaturated fats and low in saturated fats]".

"The French—saturated fat ?  Answer Alcohol

Alcohol(in moderation) raises HDL,is anti inflammatory,lowers c reactive protein,thins blood.Too many studies & too much x perience(Italia) show this"

Pfizer's billion-dollar dud torceptatrib raised HDL. It also increased mortality.

Vioxx was an anti-inflammatory. It also increased heart attacks.

Aspirin thins the blood, and while it lowers mortality in CHD patients, it’s a fizzer for primary prevention.

There does not exist a single clinical trial to show that alcohol lowers CHD morbidity or mortality. And for obvious ethical reasons, we may never see one, so I would refrain from confidently asserting that red wine explains the low CHD rates of the French when there is in fact absolutely no proof of this.

You claim I avoid the alcohol-CHD issue, but if you just took the time to pour some polyunsaturated vegetable oil along your neck and dislodge your head from your ass, you’d see that I devote an entire chapter to the issue in my book The Great Cholesterol Con.

The same book also explains in another chapter how the Italians drink a similar amount of red wine to the French, but the French have significantly lower heart disease rates.

The French, however, eat significantly more saturated fat per capita than the Italians.

You know, you want to be careful before jumping on the ‘alcohol lowers CHD’ bandwagon, because while we do not have any evidence this true, we do know for sure that alcohol consumption has the potential to cause a whole bunch of extremely undesirable effects.

Alcohol impairs sound judgement and decision-making abilities and suppresses inhibitions, causing people to find themselves in all manner of highly undesirable and compromising situations (that green-haired guy with the face tattoo didn’t look so hot the next morning, huh?)

It causes birth defects, routinely incites social incohesion and violence, causes traffic accidents and fatalities, destroys relationships and marriages, and can downright ruin your internal organs.

I bet you wouldn’t recommend people inject heroin or snort cocaine for longevity, but the indisputable fact is that alcohol causes far more morbidity and mortality worldwide than all illicit drugs combined.

I'm no teetotaller, but when it comes to CHD prevention efforts, I prefer to focus on non-alcoholic interventions that have clinical evidence behind them.

Unlike alcohol, using such strategies as iron reduction, exercise, fish oil, stress avoidance, etc, does not increase your risk of liver dysfunction, totaling your car, or waking up next to some loser you stumbled upon in a nightclub.

Also consider that in populations with habits already predisposing to low CHD rates, such as the Japanese (who have higher n-3 intakes, lower rates of obesity, and a greater emphasis on social cohesion), alcohol is not associated with reduced cardiovascular mortality in epidemiological studies.

In Japan, moderate drinking is not associated with any further reduction in CHD or stroke death, although it does increase the risk of hemorrhagic stroke[11,12]. A seven-year follow-up study of over 19,000 Japanese men found a significantly lower all-cause mortality rate for moderate drinkers, but the authors noted that the "background characteristics of moderate drinkers were healthier than either nondrinkers or heavy drinkers."[13]

Readers should take careful note of this following pearl of wisdom: " Alcohol should be regarded as a recreational drug with potentially serious adverse effects on health and it is not recommended for cardio-protection in the place of safer and proven traditional methods such as exercise and proper nutrition."[14]

Young people especially need to be wary of alcohol. As I discuss in The Great Cholesterol Con, while alcohol consumption shows a J-shaped association with mortality in over 50s, the two display a linear relationship in those below this age. In other words, if you're under 50, your mortality risk increases with even small amounts of alcohol and rises in step with increasing consumption.

Furthermore, researchers still can't agree on whether the supposedly slightly higher CHD and mortality risk of teetotallers among the over-50s is confounded by the inclusion of ex-drinkers who have stopped drinking because of health complications, aging, medication use, etc. When Fillmore et al ran a meta-analysis of the few studies without these potential confounders ("i.e., those that did not contaminate the abstainer category with occasional or former drinkers"), it showed abstainers and light or moderate drinkers to be at equal risk for all-cause and CHD mortality.

Another big problem with the alcohol studies is they tend to focus on mortality, and very little on disability and social consequences. While death rates and their causes are relatively easy to discern, researchers aren't so keen on asking questions like "How many times a week do you hit your wife?" and "How many jobs have you lost due to excessive alcohol consumption?"

And if they did, I imagine getting straight answers to such questions would be a little more problematic than those pertaining to how many glasses of alcohol one consumes daily.

As Rehm et al note:

"The lack of studies linking alcohol use to disability or quality of life is on the one hand surprising, as the first global study of alcohol–related morbidity and mortality clearly indicated that alcohol causes a larger proportion of global disability than global mortality. Specifically, it found that 1.5 percent of all deaths were attributable to alcohol, but 6 percent of all life years lost to disability were attributable to alcohol (Murray and Lopez 1996). On the other hand, even in developed countries, investigators do not collect as much data on disability as they do on mortality, because mortality is easier to quantify and data recording is required by law (i.e., a death certificate must be filled out in a standardized way) (Goerdt et al. 1996; see also Rehm and Gmel 2000). Unlike the registration of deaths, there is no routine registration of disability, which would allow relatively easy access for research purposes, linking other data such as alcohol use to disability endpoints."

So even if the allegedly beneficial relationship between alcohol and mortality is one day confirmed by clinical evidence, it's one CVD intervention I will not be tripping over myself to recommend.

The 29-year old BMW driver in this alcohol-related accident did not get a second chance. He died. I strongly recommend people find far less volatile methods than alcohol for reducing their CVD risk.

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  11. Camargo CA Jr. Moderate alcohol consumption and stroke. The epidemiologic evidence. Stroke, Dec, 1989; 20 (12): 1611-1626.
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  13. Tsugane S, et al. Alcohol consumption and all-cause and cancer mortality among middle-aged Japanese men: seven-year follow-up of the JPHC study Cohort I. Japan Public Health Center. American Journal of Epidemiology, Dec 1, 1999; 150 (11): 1201-1207.
  14. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long-term_effects_of_alcohol

Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher, physical conditioning specialist, and author of The Fat Loss Bible and The Great Cholesterol Con. For more information, visit TheFatLossBible.net or TheGreatCholesterolCon.com

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